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After record year, DSU seeks to continue momentum

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DOVER – While most businesses will likely look back at 2020 as a year to forget, Delaware State University (DSU) will remember it as a record-setting year of successes and growth.

DSU president

Tony Allen | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSU

The state’s historically Black university appointed a new president, Tony Allen, on Jan. 1 and the longtime educator, businessman and activist was quickly tested less than three months later with the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

His administration was successful in keeping its Tier 2 research labs operating through the pandemic while also switching academic instruction online in less than a week. With help from outside funding sources, DSU also partnered with Testing for America, an emerging nonprofit, to set up a robust testing program for students and faculty that administered 37,000 COVID tests over the fall 2020 semester, finding a less than 0.5% positivity rate.

The year saw DSU bring in a record-breaking fundraising haul of about $41 million in philanthropic donations, including a record single donation of $20 million from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Other donors included corporate partners, like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, as well as nonprofits like The Longwood Foundation and newcomers like social media platform TikTok. On top of that sum, the university also obtained about $26 million in research awards.

As if those moving parts weren’t enough, DSU made the decision last summer to acquire neighboring, cash-strapped Wesley College and incorporate its offerings and students into its curriculum. It also hosted a series of panel discussions for the public during the height of racial unrest in America in the same timeframe.

“I knew Delaware State had a good story, but just not enough storytellers,” Allen recently told Delaware Business Times, explaining that the growing spotlight was a deliberate strategy throughout the university’s ranks.

It’s obvious that Allen has brought DSU to the masses, and he’s now taken the lead role in planning President-elect Joe Biden’s Inauguration on Jan. 20 – he’s a friend and former speechwriter for Biden. Allen also appeared on national TV shows this year to discuss programs affecting the university or HBCUs at large, including announcing the Testing for America plan on NBC’s “Today” show.

“The time has come for Delaware State University. We’ve been building to this moment,” said Devona Williams, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, noting that Allen is building upon a strong foundation laid by predecessors like Harry Williams and Wilma Mishoe. “Dr. Allen is the icing on the cake. What he brings to this role is the business knowledge, as well as the academic experience and being an innovator.”

Building upon the discussions around race this past summer, Allen wrote to about two dozen heads of major corporations about how HBCUs could be part of the solution.

To you, our potential partners in the boardrooms around the nation, I argue that large and small HBCUs should not be thought of only at moments of crisis, but as institutions whose inherent value proposition is second to none,” he wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook in August. “Let’s turn this moment into a movement.”

The work isn’t nearly done for Allen even after a record year. DSU is currently working on its strategic plan, but Allen said that he hopes to double the university’s roughly 5,000-student enrollment in the next seven years.

“We think our graduate student portfolio, which grew about 30% this year, is a significant growth driver for us,” he said, noting gains can also be made with international, online, and early college high school students. “We think we’re a 10,000-student school.”

By Jacob Owens

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